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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  November 25, 2011 10:30am-11:15am EST

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national mall in washington is -- >> before we continue with booktv live to the u.s. senate. pro forma session. live coverage on c-span2. the presiding officer: the senate will come to order. the clerk will read a communication to the senate. the clerk: washington, d.c., november 25, 2011. to the senate: under the provisions of rule 1, paragraph 3, of the standing rules of the senate, i hereby appoint the honorable patrick j. leahy, a senator from the state of vermont, to perform the duties of the chair. signed: daniel k. inouye, president pro tempore. the presiding officer: under the previous order, the senate
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this is to keep the president from making recess appointments. senators return to capitol hill monday and will resume on defense programs and policy for next year. also a vote on the judicial nomination, our live coverage when the senate returns here on c-span. now back to her booktv schedule. >> that is why it spoke to me and if this book were a human being, it would be in highg. school and dating which is quite frightening but there you have it. [laughter] the reason why i wanted to immerse myself in we know but really, truly don't something questions.
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where did we come from and what did it take for us to get here? what was the world that the seem in this book left? what would propel six million americans to leave the only place that they'd ever known for a place that they'd never seen in hopes that life might be better? what did it take for them to get out? be how did they choose the places that they went? how did they make a way for themselves where they landed? and why didn't they talk about it? and the goal for the book was to have all of us think about and ask ourselves what would we have done had we been in their places, what would we have done? now, the subtitle of the book, the book is, of course, called "the warmth of other suns," and the subtitle is "the epic story of america's great migration." so it would appear that it's about the great migration, but in actuality this book is really about the forebearers of all
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americans really. these people are proxies for someone in all of our backgrounds, wherever we might have come from, who had to have done what these people did, the people in this book did, just for us to be here today on this soil in this lace at this time. in this place at this time. somebody had to make this great leap of faith in order for us to be here, someone in all of our backgrounds. if you think about it, how many of us know or are related to or do descended from someone, say a great grandmother from ireland who crossed the atlantic and then met and married a great grandfather from ireland -- from italy, ireland, too, parts of ireland, from lithuania, latvia, russia, poland, asia, other parts of the world and created whole newlinages? that is what happened during the course of the great migration. people who never would have met
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otherwise, would never have met actually met and created whole new lineages in the north, the west. this is one of the greatest underreported stories of the 20th century, but it also was an unrecognized immigration within the borders of our own countriment it began during world war i, and it didn't end until the 1970s, and it is the result of this that the mass majority of people that you might meet, african-americans that you might meet in the north, midwest and west are actually descended from this migration. and that's because when the migration began, 90% -- 90% of all african-americans were in the south. by the time the over in the 1970s, half of all african-americans were living outside of the south. that's a massive relocation of an entire people. and so this is in some ways the
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universal human story of longing and fortitude and courage that is what, in some ways, made the country what it is. what these people did, though, had a different tone to it because these people were defecting a caste system that existed within our country, a system that controlled their every move. in some ways they were defecting and speaking political -- seeking political asylum from a world that's almost unimaginable to us today which is why i wanted to be able to understand what it was that they left and understand the magnitude of what they had done. these people were, in some ways, forced to become the only people in our country's history to have to leave the land of their birth and to go someplace within the borders of their own country just to be recognized as the citizens to which they had been born. so i want to say a little bit about some examples of the
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absurdity of the world that they were living in. for one thing, it was against the law for an african-american, for a black person and for a white person to merely play checkers together in birmingham. against the law. someone must have seen a black person and a white person playing checkers together this birmingham, and maybe they were having a good time, maybe too good of a time. and someone must have seen that and said to themselves, the entire foundation of southern civilization is in peril, and we cannot have this and actually sat down and wrote this as a law. throughout the south in courtrooms, there was actually a black bible and a white bible to swear to tell the truth on. a black bible and a white bible to swear to tell the truth on. and what that meant was that the sacred text, the sacred scriptures that many of the people in that region built
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their entire spiritual world view on was not acceptable for the two races to touch. and i found out about this through reading a newspaper article in which it was referred to not because of the absurdity of it, but because it had actually disrupted a trial that was in progress. because they could not find the black bible for the witness to take -- to swear to tell the truth on. so that meant the bailiff and the sheriff had to search the whole courtroom in order to find the bible for them to be able to resume the trial. and i've been asked since i've talked about this, well, were there different versions of the bible that they were to be, was there a king james version for the white witnesses and maybe the american standard for the black witnesses? and it turns out it was the same one, but they could not touch
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the same text. i've been all over the country talking about this, the absurdity of the world that they lived in, and i find that one of my most challenging and beautifully challenging audiences happen to be high school students. and so i try to make it come alive for them as i do for the be reader. and i came upon, well, it's in the book, but the one i settled on that seemed to be the difference for them is one that is based upon a question i'm going to ask you. i'd like to see a show of hands of those of you who in the last week have been driving and actually passed another driver on the road. yeah. yeah. i mean, really. the two people who didn't raise their hands, you know you must have done it in the last couple weeks. [laughter] and, it's funny, when i ask the question, seem to be a little quizzical like, is there a new rule that i don't know about? [laughter] as far as i know, it's perfectly legal. but if you were african-american
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during the era of jim crow which began in the late 19th century and did not end until the civil rights legislation of the 19 1960s which meant it went on for more than three generations and into the life span of many, many americans alive today, if you were african-american, you could not pass, you could not pass a white person, a white motorist on the road no matter how slowly they were going. and that alone would probably account for a couple million right there wanting to say, i'm leaving. and so when i tell this to the high school students, i was sharing that with high school students in hawaii, actually, and i heard this murmuring in the back of the room where someone said, well, i would have honked. [laughter] and when they said that, i had to say, now, let's start again.
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[laughter] let's start again. if you could not pass individuals on the road, you most certainly could not honk. and so then someone else said, well, knowing that maybe they weren't supposed to make any noise, well, i would have tailgated them. [laughter] and i would say you couldn't pass them on the road, and you couldn't honk, you couldn't tailgate either, and isn't it in some ways a beautiful thing to realize that this is so far removed from the reality of young people today because of all that's happened in part because of this great migration that they cannot fathom the world that propels this great movement of people. now, a little bit about this caste system that they were living in. this caste system was created in many respects to insure the economy of the south. the south relied on not just the supply of cheap labor, but an oversupply of cheap labor.
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in order to plant and chop, tend and harvest the tobacco, the cotton, the sugarcane and the rights that were the staples of the southern economy. and they needed to make sure the people were ready and available and oversupplied so that the labor costs would be as low as they possibly could be. many of the people, of course, were working, were working not even being paid, they were working for the right to live on the land they were farming, they were sharecroppers. and so they were in a very difficult fix all along. this migration did not begin until something happened that would effect the entire world, and that was world war i. there have been people who want to believe for many, many, many decades, but they didn't leave until the opportunity arose and world war i began. and it was world war i in which the north had a problem. the north needed hay boar, and that's -- labor, and that's because there were, there was a loss of labor, of people who had
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been european immigrants, who'd been working the foundries and the factories and the steel mills of the north, and they had a great need for labor, and they began to go to the south to find the cheapest labor in the land, and that was african-americans in the south. again, many of whom who were not working for pay, but for the right to live on the land they were farming. and so what that ended up doing was, it meant that african-americans in all of the major northern cities that we know were actually, they arrived at the express invitation of the north. that is how this began. the south, however, did not take kindly to this poaching of their cheap labor. they did everything they could to keep the people from leaf leaving. they would arrest the people on the railroad platforms as they were preparing to go on the northbound platforms. they would alet's them from their -- arrest them from their train seats, and when there were too many people to arrest, they
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would wave the train on through so that people who had been waiting for months and months and months to get to freedom had to figure out how were they going to get out. this migration is so huge, though, that i decided to tell the story, "the warmth of other suns," from the standpoint of three individual people. the three represent the six million. and those three people are amazing, extraordinary individuals in their own right, and they each follow the three major trajectories of this my tbraition. this migration, like any migration s not a haphazard unfurling of lost souls. it was an orderly redistribution of people along the most direct routes to what they perceived as freedom. and so that meant that when you're in the north even now, you can almost tell where a person is from on the basis of the city that they happen to be in the north.
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and that's because people followed three distinctive routes, and the routes that brought people to washington, brought my parent here, was the route that took people from florida, georgia, the carolinas and virginia to washington, d.c. which was the first stop, then on to philadelphia, new york and on north. there was a second stream that took people from mississippi, alabama, arkansas, tennessee to chicago and cleveland and the entire midwest. and then there was a third stream that carried people from louisiana and texas to california and the entire we've coast. in other words, every migration is in some ways a referendum on the place the people have left, and it's a show of belief and faith that this new place will be better. and the beauty of any migration is that people follow certain streams so that it's almost a predictable outcome as to where they will go. in the same way that if you were
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to go to minnesota, you'd find that there are a lot of people from scandinavia because that is where that migration stream left them. now, this migration as any migration often occurs not because of the individuals themselves. a lot of them have already suffered in some ways whatever it is that they had to face in the south or wherever they happened to be coming from. any migration which is how all of us ultimately got to where we are happens because someone across the atlantic, across the pacific, across the rio grande decides they want something better for themselves, but more importantly for their children and the unseen grandchildren and the unseen great grandchildren, meaning all of us. and that means they had to make a great sacrifice in order to do that. and in many respects what this does is it means that these
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migrations are n some ways, leaderless revolutions that occur one person added to another person added to another person being able to change history. and that is what happens when you have large masses of people leaving. now, one way this migration changed our cub was it was the very -- our country was it was the very first time in history, american history, that the lowest caste people signaled they had options and they were willing to take them. there had been efforts to resist the problems and the challenges and the restrictions, and in some ways the violence of the south for many decades. but it wasn't until world war i that the people began to act upon that. this was the first time in our history that the lowest caste people showed that they had options ask were willing to take them. it also meant that, you know, the civil rights movement would have happened ultimately, but this propelled the civil rights
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movement to happen even more quickly than it would have otherwise. and that's because while there had been resistance all along, there had been very little attention given to it in this many parts outside of the south. and many of those efforts at changing the south were crushed before they could even get started. and so when these people left, they began to exert pressure on the north to take notice just by their being there. if you think about american history and how america gets involved in conflicts in other parts of the world, you realize that a lot of time america gets involved when there are a large percentage of people, a large enough group of people from that part of the world whether northern ireland or parts of the middle east who by their very presence can exert pressure on the united states to intervene. and the same happened with this
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great migration. by having large numbers of african-americans in new york, in washington, d.c., in chicago, in boston and be all these other places in the north where there was great industry, where the media were based, suddenly the cameras and the attention and the reporters began to go down and pay attention. it's as if trees for falling, but no one was there to hear them s finally there were. this migration, also this outpouring of millions of people, people who had been the life blood of the workers in the south, this outpouring of people did other things. it served notice to the south whether it wanted to hear it or not that something was happening and that they were going to have to address it. in many respects they actually became harsher on the people who were there. in other cases they began to loosen. but ultimately, it created a safety valve for those who decided to stay. those who decided to stay now had options that they had never
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had before. suddenly, somebody knew someone in the new world as was the case for people who lived in other parts of the world and had relatives in america. they also were sending money back home to help support the effort, to support their families as all immigrants do. and so all of these things combined helped to propel, accelerate the move towards civil rights. and finally, many of the people who stayed would off visit -- often visit people in the north. they would visit the relatives they had. everybody had an uncle, an aunt, a minister, someone they knew who was now in the north, and they would come and visit. and they would see how freer these people were in the new land, and they would go back and say to themself, why can't we have here? and unone of the most important people who ever said that was martin luther king who had the
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opportunity to go to boston university from georgia and to, where he met his wife, coretta scott. he would never have met her had he not been a part of this movement. and he was one of those people who sauer the freedoms -- limited though they might have been in those days, but freedom nonetheless -- and he went back, clearly, as that was an inspiration for him to go back and lead the final battle for freedom. and so this migration had many impacts north and south. but i think to me what i want, what i would love people to take away from this book is beyond the fact that, first of all, there are three amazing stories of people with great fortitude, courage and great sense of humor, just amazing people who i had the privilege of getting to know. ida may who was a terrible cotton picker. you don't think about people being good or bad at it, but, you know, not everybody's cut
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out for that. [laughter] and i also think about george starling who had, who -- ida mae left mississippi for chicago. and george starling who attempted in his small way to try to get little better wages and treatment for people who were picking citrus fruit in florida. and as a result of his small and quiet effort t to try to do that, ended up having to knee -- having to flee for his life from florida to harlem to safety because there had been a lynching that was planned for him. and finally dr. robert joseph pershing foster who left for california because he could not practice surgery in his own hometown of monroe, louisiana. and that was a journey that i recreated myself by renting a buick as he had. he said, if you'd seen his buick, you would have wanted it too. [laughter] and i recreated that journey. i wanted to be able to see what
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it was like to drive that are without being anal to stop -- able to stop. during that era african-americans in the 1940s, 1950s and into the 960s could not be assured of a place to rest, to get gas, to recharge their batteries, to be able to even eat, to get a meal. so they had to take great care, planning and caution. after a certain point be one could stop, but he had a very difficult time. so i attempted to recreate that journey. i rented the buick, i had my parents with me as tour guides, and we got to this dangerous, frightening part of the journey where you're going through the desert, and it's night, and i had not slept for hours as he had. it had gone on for many, many, many hours and into the night without being able to rest. and my participants were with me as i was about to rear off the
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road. -- veer off the road. and at that point we're in the mountains, and we're seeing the signs that say 80 miles to the next gas station. i mean, it is a forbidding area and terrain in be parts of our country. these states are countries unto themselves. but i was veering off the road, and my participants said, you need to stop the car, and if you won't stop the car, let us out. [laughter] we will tell you about it. we'll tell you everything that you need. and so we stopped the car in yuma, arizona, because it was no longer 1953, things had changed so much. we have a long way to go as a country, but things have changed so much that we had no trouble finding a place. we had a choice of places, and that actually made me feel even more empathy for what he had gob through because he had not had that option. this migration is so inspirational, i think, or
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should be or could be to all of us if we think about it, pause this was a leaderless revolution. there was no one, as in any migration, who sounds the day or the hour of any migration movement. these were individuals who made decisions that they thought were best for them and their children and unseen grandchildren. in be some ways it renews one's faith in the power of the individual decision. it's almost as if they realized within their bones that there were too many people, too many of them concentrated in one part of the country, one region of the curve. they said, there are too many of us here. our very, our work is devalued, our very live are devalued. perhaps we will fare better elsewhere. and is they set out on journeyses that took them from portland, maine, to portland, oregon. they went all over the united states within the borders of their own country as immigrants
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would even though they had not been truly immigrants. and so when you think about this, you think about the fact that it took this great migration for this group of people, the lowest caste people to, ultimately, gain the independence that they had deserved all along on many respects. if you think about it, these people one added to another, added to another were able to do as individuals what a president of the united states could not do; abraham lincoln. did what the emancipation proclamation could not do. they did what both houses of congress could not do. they did what the powers that be, north and south, could not or would not do. they freed themselves. they freed themselves. and that is, in some ways -- [applause] thank you.
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that, in some ways, should be an inspiration, i think, if aural of us -- for all of us who benefit in ways that are even hard to imagine from what the people did. in some ways what they did helped to open worlds up for people that we now view as icons of the 20th century. ultimately, changing 20th century culture as we know it and literature. toni morrison whose parents migrated from alabama to ohio. had they made the decision to not do that, she would have been raised in a world in which it was actually against the law for african-americans to go into a library and take out a library book. and you kind of need to be able to get a library book now and then if you're going to become a nobel laureate. people such as richard wright
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and august wilson, lorraine hasn't bury. almost all of their work was devoted to if you think about the content of their work, was devoted to understanding this migration and the impact that it had had on the country and on themselves. it said a whole -- it fed a whole world of art and culture that we now view as 20th century culture, but actually is the culture and art that grew out of this great migration. all of the works primarily of bearden and of jacob lawrence, if you can recall all of those -- are manifestations of the great migration. 20th century african-american, and that's american culture, is hard to separate from the culture of the great migration because it is the children who had been freed from the strictures of jim crow who were four free to -- who were now free to explore and be their truest creative selves as a result of their participants.
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when you think about jazz, you think about miles davis whose parents had migrated from arkansas to illinois where he had the luxury of being able to spend the hours it would take to become the mast err of his -- master of his instrument and to create a whole new form of music. and you think of thelonious monk whose parents left north carolina for harlem and had -- what would have happened had they not made that decision when he was 5 years old where he would get a chance to flourish in the way that he did. and then you think of john coltrane who also kim from north carolina, ended up in philadelphia where, believe it or not,s that is where he got his first alto sax, his first alto sax. can you think about so many people in sports from jesse owens to jackie robinson to even current-today people such as magic johnson and on and on and on and bill rustle. none of them, very few of them
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would have even have had the opportunity to become the legends that we know them to be had their parents not made the sacrifice to leave the only place they'd ever known for some place far away so that their children could actually benefit from that. so one of the things i want to leave you with before, before taking your questions are two things. one is the short passage that is the end graph to this -- epi graph to this book. it's the epigraph, the words of richard wright who was, obviously, one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century who wrote "native son," and was, himself a person who participated in the great migration. these are his words and the words that give the book its title, and these were the words that he was thinking as he was preparing to leave mississippi for the first time and venture forth to a place we'd never seep
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called chicago. here's a proxy for all of the access to have we may have who lead this great leap of faith. he wrote: i was leafing the south to fling myself into the unknown. i was taking a part of the south to transplant in alien soil. to see if it could grow differently. if it could drink of new and cool rains, band in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom. it's a prayer, really, for sustenance and survival and protection on the road ahead which cabe in some .. you with this moment, this idea. ..
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>> that moment of departure means they are the young persons in all who are standing at the railroad platform or at the dhaka at all toward an ocean or about to cross a border of some kind to get to the united states, and at that place, at that platform or that dock, were the few people
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who were important in raising that individual. there would have been a mother, a father, a grandparent, and aunt, whomever it might have been who was responsible for their even being there, and that person could not make the crossings with this young person. that person did not know when they would see this child again, and that child did not know when they would see the person who'd raise them ever again. remember there was no skype. there was no e-mail. there were no cell phones. there were no guarantees, and the next time that they might hear of that mother or that father, that person who had raised them, might be a telegram -- that's what they were using in those days -- a telegram saying that your far
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has passed away or your mother is ill, you are to come back quickly if you are to see her alive. that moment had to have happened just for all of us to be here, and i find great, a great sense of awe at the courage and the fortitude of what it took for them to make that sacrifice, and this book in some ways is a flee that we -- plea that we redefine what we call heros in this country and redefine what we call leaders. it was in our own dna the answers to so many questions that plague us because of what people went through before in order for us to get here today, and i truly believe that the message of all of this is that if these people could do what they did with absolutely
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nothing, then that means that we, their hair, there's nothing that we can't do, there's nothing that we cannot do, and, in fact, there's things we must do to make their sacrifice worth it. thank you so much, and i'm happy to take your questions. [applause] thank you. [applause] thank you. [applause] [applause] [inaudible conversations] let's see, what side? >> what did you find unique, noteworthy, mythical about the
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ultimate destinations that african-american people chose to migrate? what did you find out about your family's motivation to come to washington, d.c.? >> i have to say i'm a journalist first, and therefore the stories are premarely about -- primarily about the larger audience so the reader can identify with the protagonists, see themselves in the people that i've written about, feel that they are in the car with dr. fosters who is about to drive off the road, see themselves on the train with ida may and their children and husband setting off for a place they've never seen, but one of the realities and the within i have a sense of awe and appreciation and gratitude for whatever immigrant and migrant has to go through is the places
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they go greatly. they so greatly need the labor, but they don't necessarily want the people. how do you have both really? all the people streaming into the major industrial cities during the era of the great migration from world war i well into the 20th century into the 1970s, all of them had many, many challenges they had to go into places where their labor was needed, they were pitted one against another, immigrants against native born migrants from the south, and so their arrival in these cities was often great harrowing for them. they had come from a place where, believe it or not, every four days an african-american was lynched for some perceived
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breach of the system i described, and they arrived in places where they did not have to so much worry about that on a daily basis, but they had to worry about whether they'd be able to get work, where they might be able to live. they were assigned to places that were overcrowded and where they were overcharged for the subdivided tenements where they were living, and life was very hard for them. the reason i find inspiration from immigrants because foreign immigrants' failure is not an option. they have to succeed because there's no back up back loam. the people at home are looking to see if they can make it and often are looking for help, or they are often bragging back home about someone they know who went up north, and they are looking for them to succeed. they had to make a go of it on their own, and my heart goes out to all they went through and all
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that any immigrant goes through, and this book, people are proxies for anyone who's gone through that. this side. >> good afternoon, and thank you for the great book. weeks after i read it, i realized that there were no illustrations or pictures of the people, and i know you drew good word pictures of them, thank you for that, and their struggles, but why were there no pictures? >> no pictures because my editor and i simultaneously agreed that we wanted you to picture yourself and not be distracted by what they looked like. we wanted you to see yourself, more importantly your grandparents, great grandparents, your parents, and yourself. we wanted it a universal human story, and that's what we believe it was. thank you so much for that. [applause] hi, my family came from
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virginia. i'm from philadelphia, so that's part of the migration. >> it's classic. >> new york is the next train stop, the two-state jump i'd always say. why do you think they didn't go on to canada? you mentioned the three -- within the borders, you said that a couple times, canada in theory was freer and whatever, why not canada? >> the question is why not canada as had occurred during the underground railroad, and one of the reasons is because they were american, and they were american citizens, and it's my belief that they believed that within want borders of their country they should be recognized as citizens to which they had been. they had descended from people who had been in the country for centuries, even do this day, african-americans descended from slaves, as a group, have lived fewer years as free people than
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in slavely, and it will take another 100 years before that balance is made even. that's how long slavery existed in the country, and in some ways, i believe it was a staking of a claim of their citizenship in this country. yes? >> i'm going to ask you to thank isabel wilkerson, and in seven minutes, the conversation will continue with booktv. they will be taking live calls and answering more of your questions. i'm going to put you on hold for about seven minutes. please stay with us, and thank you so much. [applause] >> thank you. [applause]
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what i found it again and again while i was researching this book is not only was his life and nomination and briefed presidency full of incredible stories, the people who surrounded him were all so unbelievable. you just couldn't make them up. first of course is garfield's would be an assassin. he tells me deeply, dangerously delusional man that he was very intelligent and highly articulate. if you read nearly any other account of garfield's assassination, he is described as a disgruntled office seeker. but that doesn't cover the smallest part of it.
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he was a uniquely american character. he was the product of this country at that time it time that there was a lot of play in the joint and no one to really understand what he was up to and falls into account for it. he tells of a self-made bad man who was scrappy, a clever opportunist and would have been very successful if he hadn't been insane. he had tried and failed everything come on wall, in evangelism, even a free love, and in the 1800's and he had failed even at that. the when in the commune nicknamed him charles get out but he succeeded on audacity and traveled the country by train and never bought a ticket. he took a great pride moving from boarding house to boarding
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house slipping out when the rent was two. and even when he occasionally worked as a bill collector, he but escapes whatever he managed to collect. after the republican convention, guiteau became obsessed with garfield, and immediately after the election he began to stock the president. he went to the white house nearly every day. at one point he even walked in to the president's office, while the president was in it. he even attended a reception and introduced himself to garfield's wife. he shook her hand, he gave her his card, and he slowly pronounced his name so she wouldn't forget him. it's light a hitchcock movie. it's incredibly creepy and absolutely terrifying. finally, guiteau had what he believed was a divine inspiration. god wanted him to kill the president. it was nothing personal.
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he would later say. simply got's well. as strange and fascinating and nearly as dangerous as guiteau was senator roscoe conkling and that is -- [inaudible] [laughter] conkling was a burly powerful machine politician who appointed himself car foot's enemy. he bore a canary yellow waste code, lavender coming you can see the great choral in the middle of his forehead and he would play with the slightest touch. his vanity was so outside and he was famously ridiculed by another congressman on the floor of congress. but conkling was no joke. he was dangerously powerful. as a senior senator from new york, he


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